When talking about space in Europe we always compare ourselves to the space sector in the USA. The European Space Agency is often explained as ‘the European NASA’, which is only half true, but easy as an explanation.
An attendee of the recent Summer Space Festival in Brussels expressed her frustration about this, as ESA and many other space organisations do great things in Europe, that nobody really knows about, or feels the same pride about as the Americans do.
So what is it, she wondered, that makes Europe unique in space? What is the Unique Selling Point (USP) of European space?
In the session panellists gave examples of the uniqueness of the European space sector, but none of them, although all very true, really inspired me. We discussed the question on Twitter too, with some interesting responses.
Modesty is good, but not in communication
Some clue as to why European space is relatively unknown to the average European was provided by Belgian ‘State Secretary for Economic Recovery and Strategic Investment with responsibility for Science Policy’, also known as the Belgian ‘Minister of Space’, Thomas Dermine. In his introduction speech he shared that the Belgian space sector (yes, there is such thing!) is too modest about its achievements.
I would argue that this modesty extends to the entire European space sector. In addition to the sector being very fragmented into lots of national and international agencies, institutes and representations, we are just very bad in sharing the cool stories
The Cool Stories of European Space
The European space sector has a lot to brag about. Over the last decade the European Union built Copernicus: the biggest and best Earth Observation in the world, making valuable data available to scientists and entrepreneurs all over the globe. European satellite navigation system Galileo is the most accurate of all GNSS constellations.
Europe also boasts the highest number of space startups in the world. Here Europe benefits from its great diversity in cultures, backgrounds, visions and ideas.
We Suck at Marketing
So the problem is not that there aren’t enough successes, or cool stories. There is an abundance of cool images of space and Earth. We have cool role model astronauts from many countries. No, the key difference between Europe and the USA is that we suck at marketing. We are bad at storytelling and bad at sharing our successes with everyone, including the people that pay the bill for much of these successes: you and me (tax payers).
In the same panel session at the Summer Space Festival in Brussels integration engineer Nadine Smolke of Exolaunch explicitly mentioned the solution to this problem: We need marketeers and social media communicators to tell the cool stories of space.
Bottom line, Europe doesn’t lag in the new space race. We are at least as good as our American counterparts, we just need to be less modest about it.